Driver knows the pain and payoff of organ donation
Photos by Sarah Ann Jump/The Herald
NASCAR driver Joey Gase, left, talked with Pearline Brahm of Ferdinand during Joey Gase Day at Best Home Furnishings in Ferdinand on Tuesday evening. Brahm asked Gase for an autographed photo to send to her NASCAR-fan grandchildren in Atlanta.
By JASON RECKER
Twice this summer, Joey Gase will climb into a car bearing names that will make it impossible for him to escape the past. Memories from April 2011 will speed back to him. His mother s headache. The frantic trip to the hospital. Word that there was nothing more doctors could do.
There s a good chance that on July 8 at Kentucky Speedway and Aug. 19 at Bristol Motor Speedway, Gase will cry. Yet while those days will force him to recall his own early adulthood earmarked by his mother dying suddenly of a brain aneurism at age 44, they ll also remind him of the power of her decisions, the impact of his motivation and the genuine nature of the people propelling his career. During Monster Energy NASCAR Cup races at Kentucky and Bristol, Gase will drive a car sponsored by Best Home Furnishings, the Ferdinand-based home furniture manufacturer that has gladly linked itself with Donate Life, the group Gase joined not long after his mother s death. Mary Jo Gase died but not for nothing. Her family agreed to donate her organs. The decision directly affected 66 people and opened the door for more. As part of Gase s professional racing career, the 24-year-old Iowa native has pushed fans and bystanders to register as organ donors. Gase visited Best s headquarters for tours and to meet employees Tuesday during the day and mingle with the public in the evening. Memorial Hospital and Health Care Center of Jasper, helping support the push for organ donation, was affiliated with the evening meet-and-greet.
Gase posed for photos with Bryce Memmer of Ferdinand, 9, and his sister Paige, 8.
Hi, nice to meet you. Thanks for coming out today. Are you an organ donor?
Ever since then, I ve wanted to do what I could to raise awareness for donations for multiple reasons, Gase said. One, I learned there s over 120,000 people on the waiting list and that number is growing. Two, I feel like there are people in the same situation we were, where you don t talk about it and aren t very informed and I want to inform people. I want people to register so (their family) knows right away what they want. The day Mary Jo Gase died, the family didn t have her driver s license along but made the call to donate organs because they suspected Mary Jo would want it that way (afterward, they confirmed that her license indeed noted her as an organ donor and Joey made sure his said the same thing).
Mary Jo was an organ, eye and tissue donor, with those pieces of her body helping people all over the world; because she was a petite woman, some of her tissues were transported overseas to be used by Asians who often likewise have smaller frames. Some of the recipients were closer to home; one woman was from Iowa, not all that far from Gase s hometown of Cedar Rapids. The Gase family has met two recipients one who got Mary Jo’s kidney and another who received a liver.
Lacey Vollmer of Huntingburg helped her 4-year-old son, Henry, drive a race car in a virtual reality game during Joey Gase Day at Best Home Furnishings in Ferdinand on Tuesday evening.
They are good people and we stay in touch, Gase said. We ve made a lot of connections. People don t talk about it but once they hear my story, they love to talk. People want to tell their story. I get messages on Facebook and Twitter and people coming to the track. On Tuesday, Gase met a Best employee whose father recently died and was an organ donor. The man showed Gase a medal the family received from the Organ Procurement Organization.
Pretty cool to see that, Gase said.
Tuesday marked Gase s first trip to Ferdinand to see the company that earlier this year agreed to sponsor his No. 23 BK Racing car for three races the Daytona 500 in February (Gase finished 23rd), the Quaker State 400 in Sparta, Kentucky, on July 8 and the Bass Pro Shops NRA Night Race in Bristol, Tennessee, on Aug. 19. Best picked those races specifically because of their status as prime events (Daytona and Bristol) and location (Kentucky). Discussions to sponsor Gase began in early 2016 through a mutual friend with Best officials and have culminated in the biggest marketing leap Best, a $260 million company that produces nearly 1 million pieces of furniture a year and ships its products globally, has ever taken.
You see the dollar signs and you have to think about spending that kind of money, said Greg Sicard, Best s vice president of sales and marketing. But it s been better than we could imagine. We re trying to get our name out there, trying to get customers there to have a good time. … But it s also something we can do for our employees to get them excited, to give them extra things you can do that you can t do in Ferdinand. You can t have a NASCAR race in Dubois County.
Gase climbed out of his car after starting it to demonstrate how loud it is during Joey Gase Day at Best Home Furnishings in Ferdinand on Tuesday evening. At last count, more than 300 people from the plants plan to attend the race in Kentucky. Shuttle buses are being provided. Hospitality areas will be set up.
Senior Marketing Strategist Eric Vollmer called the last couple months a whirlwind. It s a welcome kind of chaos.
We got lucky with Joey because getting to know about Donate Life has been eye-opening for us, Sicard said. The sentiment will reach its zenith in Kentucky, where the car will include the name of a classmate of a Best sales rep’s daughter in Louisiana who died and donated her organs, and again at Bristol, where the name on the car will be that of a Best fabric supplier whose son died in a car wreck in California; he, too, donated his organs.
Gase will meet with those families, take pictures, tell stories and stand next to them on the track during pre-race ceremonies.
They get emotional. And every once in a while, I do, too, Gase said. You don t want doctors to tell you, Sorry, she s gone. The last thing you want to do is let go. This decision to donate makes it a little bit easier.
Joey Gase is 24 years old and engaged to be married, but he s accustomed to being mistaken for being a few years younger.
During Tuesday s visit to Best Home Furnishings in Ferdinand, the company sponsoring his No. 23 BK Racing car for three races this season, he and his fiancee were initially mistaken at the front desk as interns. Not the first time. One time at a race, a security guard didn t think Gase was old enough to be granted garage access. The minimum age was 18. Gase was plenty old. His message: Uh, I m racing today. He got where he needed to go that day. Same for Tuesday at Best.
It s cool to see how Best takes care of employees and how much people like working here, he said of the visit. It s neat to see how fast they work. I see a lot of signs about speed and working fast, and that works pretty well with what I do.